Love-hate relationship of Kashmiris with Maharaja Hari Singh

By Sant Kumar Sharma
Jammu, August 27:
It was not possible for an ordinary person to have anticipated the cataclysmic events that unfolded in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on August 5 and 6. With respect to the planned assault and decimation of Articles 370 and it’s less than legitimate offspring, Article 35 A by Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
If someone claims that he or she knew this was about to happen, mark that person as a blatant liar. The truth is that very few, a dozen or so, top politicians and bureaucrats alone knew about it and even fewer knew the real contours of the legislation.
The so-called “special status” of the state of Jammu and Kashmir had been debated as nauseum for the last many decades. There were many politicians, of different persuasions and ideologies, who claimed forcefully that touching Articles 370 and 35 A was impossible.
Leaders of the mainstream political parties of the state, particularly those from the Kashmir valley, be it Abdullahs, Muftis, Tarigami or G H Mir, often eulogised these articles. The result was that very few, if any people, had contributed any original ideas regarding them for several decades.
These leaders often compared these articles to a bridge that connected India to J&K, implying thereby that if the bridge is broken, the link will snap. Ignoring the fact, deliberately, that the state became an “integral part of India” on October 26, 1947, when Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession.
The accession of the state was a one-time option to be exercised by the Maharaja, not open to review ever. When he signed the Instrument of Accession, Maharaja Hari Singh knew his state would now legally and constitutionally be a part of the Dominion of India for all times to come.
Yet, politicians like former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti often used expressions which seemed to cast doubts on the finality of accession. Less said about the secessionist and separatists playing their own brand of politics about these articles, the better it would be.
For leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Omar Farooq and Yasin Malik, Maharaja Hari Singh was at once a villian (perhaps being a Hindu, or an autocrat), and a hero. These leaders always argued that the Permanent Resident certification of today was the State Subject laws of April 1927 and June 1932. As such, they were defending the Maharaja’s laws.
On the other hand, they would hardly let go of an opportunity to villify the Maharaja. Be it their narrative about his “undemocratic credentials” or the fact of his being a Hindu ruler of a Muslim-majority state! Never mind the fact that there is not a single recorded case of conversion of a Muslim into Hindu during 101 years of Dogra dynasty from March 1846 to October 1947.
Or their strategic silence in 2018 when it was time to celebrate the founding of Jammu and Kashmir Bank. Incidentally, the Bank was founded by Maharaja Hari Singh in 1938 and in special functions organized when the Bank completed 80 years of operations, all references to the founder were deliberately omitted by the senior Bank management.
Perhaps it is the only Bank in India, where the headquarters, regional offices or branches do not have a portrait of the founder. This nuanced and very deliberate denigration of Maharaja Hari Singh abounds in the “Kashmiri” narratives, whether mainstream or separatist.
The breast-beating over the demise of articles 35-A and 370 is deliberately, and in a misleading way, sought to be linked to the Maharaja. The neutering of these provisions, one that came into force on January 26, 1950, and the other on May 14, 1954, is linked to Maharaja. The fact remains that the Maharaja had left the state, for Bombay, long before either of these dates, never to return to the state alive.
The scrapping of one provision and rendering the other ineffectual were not acts showing disrespect to the Maharaja. Not at all. Neither was any disrespect to the last ruler intended, nor it happened.
Understanding the “Kashmiri” psyche is not something worth attempting and there is a reason for saying so. Try understanding this. July 13, 1931, is portrayed as a day of “Muslim martyrs” who were killed by a “vengeful Hindu Maharaja” by most Valley-based commentators. He is portrayed as a stark villian for the events of that day.
On the other hand, for them, he is a benevolent ruler who was immensely concerned about “his State Subjects” and hence brought in special laws to protect them! Take a call on whether he was a villian or a hero. This dupliticious behaviour is the hallmark of various narratives about the Maharaja.
The greatest act of the Maharaja towards the Indian nation, acceeding his state to India, is something challenged by these narratives. Most Kashmiri commentators will not concede unequivocally that accession was the Maharaja’s right alone, and of nobody else. Saying so would demolish their carefully crafted misleading narratives about Nehru’s promise, UN resolutions, plebiscite et al. Similarly, conceding that the government of India was capable of neutering the two articles, as has been done already, would amount to an abject defeat. It has happened though.